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How monkeypox symptoms compare to smallpox and chickenpox

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Monkeypox and smallpox are both caused by members of the poxvirus family, but chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Roger Harris/Science Photo Library via Getty Images
Monkeypox and smallpox are both caused by members of the poxvirus family, but chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Roger Harris/Science Photo Library via Getty Images
  • South Africa reported its first case of monkeypox on Thursday.
  • More than 100 cases of monkeypox have been detected worldwide in the past month.
  • Monkeypox symptoms can be confused with those of chickenpox.
  • One chart shows how monkeypox symptoms compare with those of chickenpox and smallpox.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Health officials around the world have urged people to be alert to monkeypox rashes, as more than 100 cases have been confirmed in the past month and an additional 131 are suspected, according to the World Health Organization.

South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla says the first case of monkeypox has been reported in the country, according to News24.

The patient is a 30-year-old with no travel history.  "Monkeypox is usually a mild disease manifesting as blisters on the skin. It is usually mild and self-limiting with a fatality rate of 1%. The disease has previously been reported in African countries such as Nigeria, DRC, CA Republic and Ghana in the early 2000s.

"The current outbreak is dominated by high numbers in Europe eg UK, Spain, Germany, Portugal and France. Cases have also been reported in the USA and Canada."

Phaahla said on Thursday that the NICD was busy with contact tracing.

Inger Damon, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in a statement after the first case was confirmed in the US: "Healthcare providers should be alert to any rash that has features typical of monkeypox. We're asking the public to contact their healthcare provider if they have a new rash and are concerned about monkeypox."

But identifying a monkeypox rash is not always easy.

Although they are caused by different types of viruses, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of chickenpox — and it can be tricky to tell between the two without a test.

In Greece, for example, local media reported on Monday that the country's first suspected monkeypox case tested positive for chickenpox and not monkeypox.

Symptoms of monkeypox can also be compared with smallpox — a related virus that was declared eradicated in 1980. Like smallpox, monkeypox causes pus-filled boils.

Monkeypox, however, is generally milder than smallpox, with symptoms getting better on their own within two to four weeks. Monkeypox is less contagious than smallpox was and less fatal, according to the WHO.

The main difference between the symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is swollen lymph nodes or "lymphadenopathy" — monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell while smallpox does not, according to the CDC. 

Here are the symptoms associated with monkeypox and how they compare with chickenpox and smallpox.

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